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China's big moment—here are the commodities set to benefit

Thursday, 7 Nov 2013 | 2:42 AM ET
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

Investors are keeping a keen eye on China this week as the world's second-biggest economy gears up for its Third Plenum of the Communist Party. The summit of China's leaders is expected to deliver some of the biggest reforms for the country in 35 years.

China is the one of the world's biggest producers and consumers for a range of commodities. In ranks number one in the steel and coal industry, according to the World Coal Association, as well as in iron ore, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Copper Development Association state it's the world's second biggest producer of copper, behind Chile. Commodities are a big deal for the biggest population on the planet, and prices have risen in the last 10 years with China the underlying driver of this "super-cycle".

(Read More: Will China's Plenumbe a watershed event for stocks?)

The Communist Party get-together could radically alter this picture, however. Beijing is trying to shift the economy towards consumption to put growth on a more stable long-term footing.

China's president, Xi Jinping, has promised comprehensive reforms. Urbanization and financial liberalization will likely be key focuses. A national social security system has been touted as well as more free-trade zones, land ownership reforms, changes to state-owned enterprises and property tax legislation. There is also speculation there will be discussions on tackling overcapacity and environmental pollution.

"If China does embrace meaningful reform, it will mean a real economic adjustment," Patrick Chovanec, the managing director and chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management told CNBC.

"The commodity boom we've seen in recent years was due partly to real growth, but in large part to grossly inflated demand from runaway credit creation in China. Whether China has a hard landing or a soft landing, the current investment boom will slow significantly."

(Read more: China faces tough balancing act as plenum looms)

Over the medium term, increased demand for urban properties and social housing should unleash fresh demand for construction materials, predict strategists Grant Sporre and Xiao Fu from Deutsche Bank. But pollution-cutting measures, limits on overcapacity, use of steel scrap and a property tax could result in a peak in steel consumption intensity and lower demand growth for iron ore over the coming decade, they said.

What to expect from China's Communist party congress?
Miranda Carr, head of China research at NSBO, explains the significance of China's Communist party congress and what is going to be discussed.

"As China moves from an FAI (Fixed Asset Investment) to a consumption-driven economy and continues to move up the value chain, we believe that metals which have higher usage in consumer applications (including aluminum and zinc) and are required to produce high value added materials such as stainless steel (nickel) and galvanized steel (zinc) are likely to benefit," the strategists said in a release note, published on Wednesday.

They iterated that zinc, nickel and aluminum would be potential beneficiaries over the medium term, but iron ore and steel impact is likely to be neutral to slightly negative.

(Read more: Will China's plenum dazzle or disappoint?)

The bank also expects uranium and to a lesser extent palladium as potential beneficiaries. Thermal coal, with China's efforts to curb pollution, is seen as the most likely loser, it said.

"Commodities are likely to suffer," Miranda Carr, head of China Research at North Square Blue Oak told CNBC.

She believes, however, that one beneficiary could be natural gas -- the cheapest and quickest way to tackle the chronic air pollution that is affecting northern China. Carr expects further pricing reform will improve the supply, particularly of imported gas with the new China-Myanmar pipeline becoming operational last July.

By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81

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